encourage a cancer patient or caregiver

One of the questions I get most frequently is how to encourage a cancer patient or caregiver. After all, when we see someone going through something so difficult, it’s natural to want to encourage them–but how? The monster they’re up against seems so immense!

“I Just Don’t Know What to Say.”

It’s difficult to know what to say when a friend or family member’s life is turned upside down cancer. After all, there is nothing you can you say that will change their diagnosis. But you can encourage your friend. What’s important isn’t what you say, but that you care enough to be there and listen.
In fact, “I don’t know what to say,” is the perfect way to let them know that you realize there are no easy answers. It lets them know that you care enough to be there for them through the hard place they are in. And, it’s certainly better than not calling or visiting out of fear or discomfort.

Examples of Helpful Things to Say:

“I’m sorry this has happened to you.” This means more than you may think. In fact, it’s the simplicity of it that helps. There are no expectations or pressures put on the patient. Instead, it simply acknowledges that the situation is terrible and that you care.

“What are you thinking of doing?” Then, don’t question the wisdom of their plan of action. Rather, support it. This shows respect for the patient and their decision-making process. Adding your own opinions would only cause the patient to second guess themselves and the decision they have put so much thought and research into making. Don’t give advice unless asked, and then, be reserved and careful.

“Is there any way that I can I help?” If there is something specific you would like to do, offer. Let them know that you would like to encourage them by doing this.

“I’m thinking about you.” This is especially appropriate in a card or email. Often people assume that the patient has a lot of support, so they don’t want to “bother” them. Unfortunately, many times other friends make the same assumption and the patient has no solid support system. Even if they do have plenty of support, your card will remind them that you, in particular, are thinking about them.

“If you ever feel like talking, I’ll be here to listen.” Even if the patient isn’t ready to talk in the beginning, saying this assures them that if they need a friend to talk to, they can count on you.
(If you are a praying person) “I am going to be praying for you.” Then, remember to actually pray. Better yet, pray for them right then and there, and continue to pray later.

Examples of Unhelpful Things to Say:

“I know just how you feel.” Everyone is different. Even if you have been in a similar situation, saying this demeans what the patient is going through.

“How long do you have?” First of all, Prognoses are wrong all the time. Asking this is validating the hopelessness of the situation, rather than allowing the patient to experience their own level of hope or lack of hope.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” “Think positive,” or “You just need to have faith.” While these phrases are often said to encourage a cancer patient or caregiver, they instead belittle the patient’s fears and feelings.

“Don’t worry.” Like the phrases above, this is often said to try to put a positive face on what is happening. This will likely make the patient feel very alone, since a person who says this has no understanding of what he/she is facing.

“I know just what you should do.” Again this undervalues the situation by implying it has an easy fix.

Be Real

You can still be humorous and fun when appropriate and when needed. A light conversation or a funny story can make a friend’s day. Talk about common interests, hobbies, life events and other topics not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from the disease.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the elephant in the room. Be cheerful when you naturally would be, and allow for sadness when it’s appropriate. Your friend may need to talk to someone he/she trusts.

Some More Suggestions to Encourage a cancer patient or caregiver.:

Most patients have a medical team as well as close family members participating in their decision-making process. Adding your two cents can be like the proverbial “too many cooks in the kitchen.”
Avoid bringing up behaviors (past or present) that might have contributed to his or her disease, such as smoking or drinking. They are fully aware of these things and often feel guilty about them already.

Even if they express a desire to give up, avoid the natural reaction, “You’ve got to just keep fighting.” This can make the patient feel guilty, and like you didn’t really hear them as they expressed their feelings.

Instead, at times like this, be supportive of your friend’s feelings. One of the best ways to encourage a cancer patient or caregiver is to allow them to be negative, withdrawn, or silent. Resist the urge to change the subject. Silence and holding their hand can be a greater comfort than words.

Telling them they are strong can cause them to act strong even when they are exhausted, so avoid this. Instead of giving advice, ask advice. This helps him/her maintain an active role in your friendship. Just because your friend has cancer, doesn’t mean their need to help and be heard has gone away.

Before asking questions, ask if it’s welcome. They will likely be happy to answer, but they may wish to keep some things private.

Ask your friend if they would like to share how they are feeling. Very often–in fact, most often, if you want to encourage a cancer patient or caregiver, you need to allow them to feel their pain. Even more, you need to acknowledge their pain and be present in it, with them. This might seem, counterintuitive, but it is in fact what they need most.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Giving gifts to brighten a patient's day.

Confession: I’m a Terrible Gift Giver. I don’t know why. I just am. Each Christmas my sisters-in-law and I all exchange gifts. They are little gift bags of things that make life fun: notebooks, lotions, great pens, etc. I am always in awe of the ladies’ creativity and thoughtfulness.

In comparison, my ideas are unoriginal, and my gift bags aren’t nearly as cute. Still, they appreciate my effort. Gifts are another way to show someone you care about them.

Money

Money can be a sensitive subject, but it is an important part of life. Many times, we’ve had people bless us with cash, checks, and gift cards just when we needed it most.

Because of being self-employed Realtors, we don’t get sick pay. So, when Dan was diagnosed with cancer, one of the things that began to suffer was our finances. With all of Dan’s appointments, and him becoming sick from treatment, many potential clients were unsure of whether we’d be able to give them the attention they needed in their home buying/selling process. Often they were tempted to choose someone else to represent them and we were left with no income.

Even patients with jobs that offer sick pay, find that it runs out all too quickly.

The patient’s spouse needs to be there for the patient during treatment and recovery, and not only for support. When someone is facing an illness that can be terminal, it’s important for the family to have as much time together as possible.

This is especially a concern when there are children at home. Emotional struggles and fear can quickly creep in. Having both parents there to manage the children’s insecurities and the by-products of the situation make a big difference. You can learn more about parenting with cancer in my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent.

The Gift of Giving

Some people are more comfortable giving gifts, than “doing something.” That’s wonderful because gifts can make as much of a difference as anything. They can be a huge blessing and brighten someone’s day.

Gifts can be practical, fun, interesting, serious, or light, depending on what your friend needs the most.

When giving gifts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the interests and hobbies of your friend. They may appreciate something really silly or unusual, or something that is deeply meaningful.

If the patient is someone you don’t know as well, like a neighbor or work colleague, you may want to stick with something more traditional.

Gifts We’ve Received

We’ve received some gifts that have lightened our load during this journey. Gift cards to order pizza enabled us to make our daughter’s 11th birthday more special, even though we were financially strapped.

One day a dear couple stopped by with a pair of slippers, a robe, comfy pajama bottoms, and several meals. We were overwhelmed by their love for us.

Another couple came over during the holidays with a basket full of fruit, and a gift card for groceries which we used in order to have a wonderful Christmas meal with all of our kids.

We’ve been given timely financial gifts that have dramatically improved our lives.

I could go on, but instead, I’ll give you a list of some ideas you can use to bless the people in your life who are struggling.

Some Suggestions:

Facing Cancer has great ideas for a gift to give cancer patients.
Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in Paperback and Kindle formats.

Digital Gifts:

  • CDs or gift cards for downloadable music or audiobooks
  • DVDs of movies, TV shows, or documentaries
  • A video message from family and friends
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • An e-reader and a gift card to add some books to it.

Traditional Comfort Gifts:

  • A good book, or a magazine or newspaper subscription.
  • Crossword or Sudoku puzzles
  • Note cards or a journal
  • Gift a soft, comfortable hat or scarf if your friend will lose his/her hair with treatment. This helps men and women feel more comfortable in appearance, and physically. You lose a lot of heat through your head in the winter if you don’t have hair. Bald heads burn easily in the summer sun without protection.
  • Gift a super comfy blanket, socks, or robe, for couch lounging or trips to chemo.
  • Slippers, pajamas or robe
  • Give a plant or send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Also, make sure they don’t have any sensitivities. Lilies, in particular, can have strong scents that bother some people.

Gift Cards:

  • Gift certificates for massage, spa services, restaurants or museum/art gallery passes can all help lift someone’s spirits and make life a little more “normal.”
  • Grocery stores gift cards can be extremly helpful.
  • Buy gas cards to help with the extra driving to appointments. I remember one week when we spent about 10 hours driving to and from appointments. Friends gave us gas cards which made a huge difference!

Splurge and Pamper:

  • Accessories (earrings, bracelets, scarves, ties, hats), makeup, or beauty items
  • Portable hobby supply kits (scrapbooking, drawing, and needlepoint) or puzzles can be relaxing gifts.

Paid Services:

  • Treat him or her to a spa or beauty treatment: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time they’ve felt pampered in a while.
  • Housecleaning- When someone has cancer, the entire household goes into “survival mode,” and cleaning often falls by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean that the newly accumulated dust and clutter go unnoticed.

Often, patients and caregivers are embarrassed at the condition their home is in because they lack the time and energy to clean. They scurry around trying to get things in order when they hear that someone is stopping by. This leaves them exhausted, later.

You could offer to help clean, (use your best judgment as to how this will be received). Often shame and embarrassment will keep people from accepting.

Paying for a visit from a cleaning service on chemo day would be a huge blessing. They will return home to a spiffed up house and have one less thing to worry about.

Note* Make sure that they are okay with this since some people are very private and will not be as appreciative of this.

  • Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage. Use caution if the patient has metastatic cancer that has spread to their lymphatic system. The safest thing to do is to have them check with their doctor. This is also a great gift for stressed-out caregivers.

If you want to give “outside of the box”:

  • Check to see if your employer would allow you to donate money or vacation time to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or caregiver you work with.
  • Look into donating air miles so that they can take a trip, or family from far away can visit.

A Bonus Idea for the Adventurous: A Chemo Day Bag!

Spending time in the “chemo chair” is no fun. The day often includes several different appointments and can become long and drawn out. One way to bless someone who’s receiving chemotherapy is to give them something to make the day easier and the time to go by faster.

Any bag will do. If you are going to go all out, a diaper bag has plenty of room, and all of the pockets are great for organizing the goodies you can fill it with. Don’t feel like you need to use all of these ideas. Even a small gift bag with one or two of the items will let the patient know you care and want to make their chemo day easier. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • You could include things like a travel mug with herbal tea or cocoa packets.
  • Lotion and Chapstick help with the drying effect of chemo.
  • Mints, lemon drops or “Preggo-pops” (ginger candy), all help with nausea associated with chemotherapy.
  • A favorite novel, puzzle book or devotional can help pass the hours in the chair. Add a journal and pen for the patient to record their thoughts at such an emotional time.
  • Hand sanitizer and baby wipes are wonderful for cleaning up after a snack (which you could also include).
  • If you really feel like going all out, you could add a quilt or a fleece blanket.
  • A heating pad is a great addition for extra comfort and warmth during those long chemo sessions.
  • Consider putting together a small bag for the caregiver. Often they sit in a folding chair during the hours the patient is receiving chemo.

Gift a Chemo Day Bag

Our Story

Dan developed “brain mets,” or metastasis to the brain, two years after Dan his initial diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer. He went to the University of Minnesota for a procedure called, “Gamma Knife.” It used concentrated rays of radiation to strategically eliminate the tumor in his brain while sparing the rest of the brain. It was going to be a long day, so my mother-in-law came along to keep me company. My brother-in-law gave us a ride so that we wouldn’t need to worry about driving and parking. My sister-in-law sent little gift bags with snacks and reading material for our wait. Each of these loved ones made a frightening day much easier.

Note: This post and its suggestions have been excerpted from the book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-05-28 07:00:08.


Firefighters with Cancer

It’s been 17 years since “9/11.” No doubt, you remember where you were on that day. Images of heroic first responders are etched in our memories forever. Exactly how has the health of survivors and first responders (including firefighters) at Ground Zero been impacted? Are there more firefighters with cancer than in the general population?

One recent study (1) estimates 2960 new cancer cases in the WTC-exposed cohort between January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2031. This means that in the future we can expect to see greater numbers of WTC-exposed rescue and recovery workers, including firefighters with cancer.

It’s still hard to find clear statistics. Collecting data takes decades, so we won’t know for many years, the full cost they paid that day. But, we do know that firefighters, police officers, EMT’s, construction workers and volunteers were exposed to over 80 health risks including lung diseases, mental illness such as PTSD and cancers like multiple myeloma (2). It’s also clear that there are increased numbers of firefighters with cancer in general, beyond the World Trade Center Responders.

Check out the video at the end of this article. Dallas Firefighters share their cancer experiences.

Imagine you’re a firefighter.

You put on your gear. Manufactured used special chemicals to make it flame retardant. You go into a burning home and get everyone to safety. The chemicals in the smoky air surrounding you stick to your gear. Fire after fire, they accumulate. After the fire, you toss the gear in the back of your truck.

You don’t wash it. For 2 reasons:

  1. Your dirty gear and helmet are a badge of honor within the firefighting culture. The soot and grime show that you’ve seen a lot of fire.
  2. Frequent washing causes rapid deterioration of your gear. That means replacing it more often, which means an increased budget.

Firefighters and Cancer

Problems

No Annual Physicals

Many fire departments don’t require annual physicals beyond the initial hiring physical. (3) These physicals are crucial for preventing the #1 cause of death in firefighter, heart attacks. But they’re also essential for firefighters with cancer to get early cancer detection.

The Gear, Itself.

The fabric in the gear, itself, is made with Terephthaloyl Chloride and p-Phenylenediamine. (4)  This has a toxic component called C8.

Why is it there?

  • To protect firefighters from the heat while fighting fires.

What’s the alternative?

  • In Europe, where it’s illegal to manufacture goods with known carcinogens, they use a component called C6 in their gear.

Why don’t we make our fire gear in the US with C6 rather than C8?

  • Perhaps because C6 costs exponentially more to make.

The Heat

While fighting fires, your body temperature rises, increasing the rate of absorption of chemicals into your system. Chemicals like the C8 in your gear and chemicals that have accumulated from the fires themselves.

Firefighters and Cancer

Off-Gassing from the Gear

Remember how you tossed that gear in the back of your truck? The chemicals that have accumulated off-gas carcinogens. This is one of the reasons it’s important to decontaminate your gear and your body before leaving the fire. Another reason is that you don’t want to put your family at risk by bringing those carcinogens home with you.

International Firefighters Cancer Foundation

Cindy Ells started the International Firefighters Cancer Foundation after she noticed too many firefighters with cancer in the Maryland Fire Service. In her presentations, she cites research that says, firefighters are more than 100 times more likely to get cancers such as Multiple myelomas, testicular cancer, and blood cancers than the general population.

“That’s what makes firefighting so unique. You are getting the stacking effect of many chemicals that weren’t designed to go together. So, the body and the body’s immune system is not designed to fight these. And hence we have a huge growing cancer effort.” (5)

How can we reduce the number of firefighters with cancer?

  • Follow every precaution.
  • Wearing all your gear.
  • Clean that gear well after each use.
  • Communities need to make funds available for the firefighters who protect them to have enough of the right gear.
  • Departments should require annual physicals.

Check out this powerful video!

Assistance is available for firefighters with cancer

If you are or know. a firefighter who’s been diagnosed with cancer, get in contact with the Firefighter Cancer Support Network and request assistance. They will stick with you from your diagnosis and through the battle. They have volunteer mentors who can share their experiences facing cancer and give you valuable resources through the recovery process.

If a doctor diagnoses you with one of the more than 80 diseases covered by the World Trade Center Health Program and you are eligible, apply HERE.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. Singh A, Zeig-Owens R, Moir W, et al. Estimation of Future Cancer Burden Among Rescue and Recovery Workers Exposed to the World Trade Center Disaster. JAMA Oncol. Published online April 26, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2018.0504
  2. World Trade Center Health Program
  3. Fire Rescue Magazine.com, The Case for Annual Physical Exams in the Fire Service, 7/1/2010
  4. Station Pride.com, The Real Cancer in Your Gear, 3/28/2017 by Mutual Aid
  5. Interview by Mary Sturgill, July 19, 2016, Columbia, SC (WLTX)

Originally posted 2018-09-17 07:00:11.


when you have to watch your loved one suffer

I often write about the practical side of facing cancer. One thing I haven’t written about is what it’s like to watch your loved one suffer. It’s something that people try not to think about. Friends and family who don’t live with the patient 24/7 often miss the drama of middle of the night pain. This is a good thing. It’s not something that anyone would want to see and hear. Yet it falls to a spouse or other close caregiver to be there. This is also a good thing because no one should suffer alone.

What is like, really, to watch your loved one suffer?

The best way I can describe it is a feeling of utter helplessness. You want to make the pain stop, but there is no way you can. “Have you taken your pain pills?”

“Yes.”

“Would you like me to run you another hot bath with Epsom salts?”

“I just took one. As soon as I got out the cramping began again.”

I hold him and pray a silent prayer for the pain to subside. I believe this is the best thing you can do when you have to watch your loved one suffer.

He attempts to pull on some compression stockings to help his circulation and stop the painful cramps, but his toes are so sensitive from the neuropathy that it feels impossible.

I begin looking for compression stockings with zippers and no toes to help. Instead, we settle on purchasing a contraption off of Amazon that helps people get their socks on. While it won’t help him tonight, it may in the future. It’s surreal to be shopping online while my husband is crying in pain.

He tries to lie down again. Within a couple of minutes, he jumps out of bed, crying out in pain and frustration. He slams his hand against the dresser in an uncharacteristic show of anger.

“We should call the 24-hour nurse line.”

“No.” He doesn’t say it, but he thinks they will tell him to go into the hospital. I know that’s what he’s thinking. While it’s important to respect their wishes, it’s also important to feel fully informed and supported during those times when you must watch your loved one suffer.

I look up a website that does into great detail about leg cramps. I read it aloud so Dan and I can brainstorm together.  “Are you taking calcium every day?”

“Yes. And magnesium and potassium.”

“How about fluids? You slept most of the day. Maybe you’re dehydrated. You should have a Gatorade.”

“Then I’ll be up all night, going to the bathroom.”

“At this point, you’ll be up all night with cramps. Try rubbing some Biofreeze on your legs.” I hand him the bottle of the most magical analgesic rub we have.

He takes it and goes into the bathroom while I grab my phone and his wallet. I pull out his insurance card and dial the 24-hour nurse line. He grumbles in irritation as he hears me on the phone. I tell the nurse the problem as well as the things we’ve done so far. “I guess I just want to know if there’s something we’ve missed, something that could help him.”

The nurse asks

“Does he gets labs done when he goes to the doctor?” The next lab appointment isn’t until mid-December, a month away. But, he does have an appointment with his palliative doc in less than a week.

He can hear our conversation and chimes in, “I could schedule a lab appointment before I see Dr. N. I really should have my port accessed, anyway.”

The nurse encourages us to discuss these cramps with the palliative doctor. “She could prescribe a different muscle relaxer that may work better. And his electrolytes may be off, even though he is taking supplements.  It could also be something with no known cause. Sometimes we just can’t find a reason.” She gave me hope and then dashed it.

I got off the phone and again encouraged Dan to drink a Gatorade. “Red or orange?”

“Which one tastes better?”

“They both taste amazing. They’re Gatorade,” I put a positive spin on it. He chose a red one and eventually settled in for the night. When sleep finally arrives at three in the morning, we are both so grateful.

This is the account from a recent late-night episode (late November). We’ve had countless in the last 6 years. Some involved nausea, while others were due to dizziness or trouble breathing. Neutropenic fevers have pulled us into the emergency room on several occasions. All of these long nights were filled with the terrible feeling of helplessness. In those times I wish I could take his place. But I can’t.

If you ask a professional…

How do you deal with having to watch your loved one suffer? They will often suggest a mindfulness technique, such as meditation or a breathing exercise. I think there is merit to this, but in the moment, it is completely counter-intuitive. My husband is hurting and I’m going to focus on my breathing? Unfortunately, we often have to do what doesn’t come naturally.

It might be unrealistic to expect a caregiver to practice mindfulness when they are in the middle of a night like I’ve described. But, it can still be helpful at other times, such as during chemotherapy, while they are doing okay, but before the side effects of the chemo kick in. This can build up your reserves and steel your nerves for what’s to come.

After a tough night

When the worst is over, mindfulness and self-care practices can help you recover. It’s important to take the time to care for yourself. It may mean calling a family member or friend to give you some respite time. Allow yourself this very important time. It isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.

It hurts to watch your loved one suffer. That pain is the price of love. There are ways to bounce back from this pain, both for you and your loved one. That’s what resilience is. In the next few posts, we will look at how you can be more resilient no matter what cancer throws your way.

Have you ever had to watch your loved one suffer? What helped you through that time? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Now Available!!

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Daisy Letters

Do you have a child in your life in need of encouragement? There’s a young girl in England who would love to help by sending one of her Daisy Letters!

How Daisy Letters Began

Beginning at the age of 6 months old, Leanna spent much of her life in the hospital, fighting cancer twice. Her response to her personal trials was to help other kids who were facing difficult circumstances. She began the non-profit, Daisy Letters, with the goal of brightening up the day of the children who are going through tough times.

Leanna does something rarely done anymore.

She sends handwritten letters of encouragement. The effect is amazing! Anyone can nominate a child or teen, between the ages 0-19 years to receive one of Leanna’s Daisy Letters. When I heard of Daisy Letters, I went to Leanna’s site and nominated our daughter, Emily. Emily was really struggling with what was happening with her dad’s cancer. Having Asperger’s only added to the difficulty of expressing her emotions in a healthy way. I could see that she was very sad, but I didn’t know how to reach her. I filled in the online forms explaining why Emily could use a dose of encouragement. A few weeks later, a letter arrived from the UK. Emily looked at it with wonderment. Who could have sent it?

A few weeks later…

a letter arrived from the UK. Emily looked at it with wonderment. Emily wondered, “Who could have sent it?” as she examined the letter with international postage. I don’t know what Leanna wrote, but it meant a lot to Emily. She had an extra bounce in her step after that. She still has the letter sent across the sea, by another girl her age, who she has never met, but who cared enough to write.

Leanna says, (in her beautiful British accent) “I know how hard it can be struggling with illnesses, or being in hospital for long periods of time, or having a bad day where life is tough. I would have loved to receive a letter to encourage me, and so I want to be able to do this for other children and teenagers. A handwritten, personal letter can mean so much to the recipient, and with words of strength, encouragement, and care, I want to bring a smile to people’s faces and hopefully brighten up their day.”

She is certainly succeeding!

If your child, or a child you know could use that kind of encouragement, go to the Daisy Letters website to nominate them. If you’d like to help Leanna, you can donate stationery, envelopes, or money to be put towards stamps, and ink cartridges. Send her a message in the reply section on her site, letting her know you would like to help. She will respond, letting you know the best place to send your donation.

Sometimes it’s good to take a “digital break.”

That’s what I’m going to be doing in the month of January. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting as much writing done as I should be, so rather than spending time on email, social media, and other online activities; I will be writing and reconnecting with my goals for 2018. You will still see weekly blog posts on Facing Cancer with Grace, because I have already written them and will post them automatically, using a scheduler. Even though I may not respond to your comments right away, I will read them and appreciate them greatly. Since I won’t be sharing my posts to social media in January I would appreciate it if those of you who use social media would share my posts. Thank you!

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-01-29 07:00:59.


Hospice and palliative care

The battles of the war against cancer are waged, daily within the bodies of patients young and old, wealthy and poor. There we have made great strides. In 2014, “UK death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer combined are down by almost a third in 20 years.” (1) Yet, like any war, the casualties at the hands of this disease are great. That’s when hospice and palliative care enter the picture.

Curing vs. Healing

There comes a time when we need to switch from curative treatment to healing efforts. We can heal, even as we die. There can be healing of relationships, spiritual healing, letting go of the things that never should have been clung to in the first place. Hospice and palliative care services enable patients and families to heal.

There’s always hope.

People often start out their treatment plan with big hopes. Over the course of a terminal illness, those hopes can be dashed, sometimes over and over again. It can be discouraging for patients and their loved ones. Even if they are disappointed, there’s still hope. It just changes. They go from hoping for a cure to hoping for a quality of life. They hope for time. And then they hope for an end to life that isn’t devastating. They hope they can say the things they need so much to say. They’re hoping that when things get difficult, They won’t be alone. They’ll have people they can count on and trust.

Your Medical Team

You need to trust your medical team. If you don’t–get a new one.
As you begin the process of dying, your doctor may tell you that the time is near. Yet, you might not think of yourself as dying. It’s similar to how we don’t see ourselves getting old until crow’s feet are surrounding the eyes that are staring back at us in the mirror.

While you can’t predict exactly when you’ll die, your doctor has seen it countless times before, and as your cancer worsens, can give you an idea of when it may happen. It’s important to trust your medical team so that you can make the appropriate plans. At the same time, focus on and making the most of each day, one day at a time. Stay involved with life, doing the things that you love, for as long as you can.

What is Palliative Care?

Palliative Care focuses on providing relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve the quality of life for both the patient and the family. Your medical team should talk to you about this at the very beginning of your cancer journey. It is helpful for all oncology patients, not just those that are terminally ill.

What is Hospice?

Many people think that hospice is a place, but it’s not. It’s actually a collaborative approach to providing care. You receive these services wherever you are living, whether at home, a nursing home, or a facility that specializes in the care of hospice patients.

Hospice and palliative care combined is the newest recognized specialty, receiving official recognition by the American Board of Medical Specialties as recently as 2006.

While receiving hospice and palliative care services, you will have a medical team that’ll help you and your family manage any problems or issues related to your terminal illness. This team may include any of the following:

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Home health aides
  • Massage therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Nutritionists
  • Social workers
  • Physical and/or occupational therapists
  • Various types of counselors
  • Clergy who specialize in end of life care

This team is created specifically for your needs and can include as few or as many members as you want and need.

What You May Not Know About Hospice and Palliative Care

Hospice and palliative care services are covered by Medicare and at least in part by most insurance plans. Once you are part of a hospice program, you can leave the program at any time. You can always make adjustments to the services you receive.

In the past, people thought of hospice and palliative care services as “the end.” They dreaded even the idea. The fact is, in a recent study, terminally ill patients were found to have lived longer on hospice, than those who did not use hospice services.(1)

One recent change to hospice care is that in some circumstances, you can still receive curative treatment for your illness. In the past, this wasn’t allowed. There are also transitional hospice and palliative care programs where you receive palliative care until it is time to receive hospice. This gives patients a seamless transition in their services.

You aren’t limited to a set amount of time on hospice. While the program is meant to be short-term (under 6 months), you can be reassessed for re-enrollment if you exceed that amount of time. You can also go off of hospice for any reason, and later receive services again.

Melissa Turgeon from the Angel Foundation made plaster casts of Dan’s hands. Photo by Jim Bovin.

Our Story

My husband enrolled in a transitional palliative care to hospice program in late 2015. It gave me as his wife and caregiver a great feeling of comfort. We had access to medical care 24/7. This helped me to rest easy knowing that even in the middle of the night, I could call a nurse out to our home, if necessary.

We requested that an oncology social worker come to our home and meet with our daughters.  She was able to help them work through their feelings and anxieties about their dad’s illness. She gave them some coloring journals that were made especially for children who had a parent with cancer. This helped them a lot!

Thanks to a new treatment,  his condition stabilized within a couple of months, and he was able to end his hospice services. When the time comes that he needs them again, he will resume.

The Sooner the Better

It is better to start hospice services sooner rather than later. Half of all hospice patients receive less than 3 weeks of care, while over 35% receive services for less than 7 days.(2) This isn’t long enough to form a good, trusting relationship with your care team.

You will get physical support when you enter hospice, but if you enter too late, you can miss out on spiritual, emotional, and relational healing.

When making the decision about whether or not to look into hospice services, consider the needs of your family along with your own. Hospice addresses the needs of not only the patient but their family members as well. People who wait too long to get hospice care are missing out on valuable resources available to them and their family members. For a minimum of one year after the death of a loved one, family members are eligible to receive bereavement care and counseling through the hospice program.

Chaplains

Even if you aren’t religious, or ascribe to a different faith tradition, it is extremely helpful to spend time with a chaplain. They may be available where you receive your cancer treatment or through your faith community. Hospitals almost always have a chaplain on staff. They’re knowledgeable and experienced in helping people process the end of their time here on earth.

Our Story

Hospice and palliative care are especially helpful for patients who have young children. When Dan was extremely ill, the transitional palliative care to hospice program sent a social worker to our home to help our daughters through the difficult time. She gave our daughters specially designed coloring books for kids who had a parent with a terminal illness. These were incredibly helpful for the girls as they sorted out their emotions and fears. The social worker talked to them and answered their questions. She helped them to feel safe in an incredibly frightening time.

Is now a good time to look into hospice or palliative care services?

Having professionals who specialize in helping patients as they near the end of life can save you valuable time. Don’t ignore the valuable resources that are within your grasp. If your healthcare team hasn’t given you information about services that can help you at this time, tell them that you need to know who would be helpful to talk to so you can make plans for yourself and your family.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

  1. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management Vol. 33 No. 3 March 2007. Comparing Hospice and Nonhospice Patient Survival Among Patients Who Die Within a Three-Year Window. Stephen R. Connor, PhD, Bruce Pyenson, FSA, MAAA, Kathryn Fitch, RN, MA, MEd, Carol Spence, RN, MS, and Kosuke Iwasaki, FIAJ, MAAA, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (S.R.C., C.S.), Alexandria, Virginia;
    and Milliman, Inc. (B.P., K.F., K.I.), New York, New York, USA
  2. NHPCO Facts and Figures: Hospice Care in America. Alexandria, VA: National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, September 2015

Originally posted 2018-05-21 07:00:21.


No two cancers are alike.

I recently read an article about John McCain and Jimmy Carter.[1]  Apparently, a lot of people wonder why their cancers could have had such different outcomes. The thinking behind this is something most cancer patients encounter throughout their journey. People often don’t realize that no two cancers are alike. Today I’ll share some of the reasons for this, and what it means for cancer patients and their loved ones.

Where cancer originates is what kind of cancer the patient has.

One of the reasons no two cancers are alike is because they originate in different areas of the body. For example, Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with melanoma. This is a dangerous form of skin cancer. John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma. A glioblastoma is a dangerous form of cancer in the brain. Jimmy Carter’s melanoma at one point metastasized (or moved) to his brain, but it was still melanoma.

My husband Dan was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. By the time they found it, it was in his lymphatic system. There was actually very little of it in his lungs because it metastasized so quickly. It was too late to cut it out. Even though it was in his lymph nodes when they found it, they found lung cancer cells there. At one point, like Jimmy Carter’s melanoma, it metastasized to his brain, but it was still the lung cancer cells that were in that brain tumor.

Why does this matter?

It’s important to realize that no two cancers are alike because they are treated differently. Some forms of cancer have more treatment options.  Some of these options have been better researched because there are more research dollars being directed at certain cancers than others. Melanoma, the cancer that metastasized to Carter’s brain, was treatable with a new immunotherapy. Glioblastoma, the form of cancer McCain suffered from, doesn’t respond to immunotherapy, and is extremely difficult to treat, especially when advanced.

Some cancers are curable, even at stage IV.

Different cancers have different staging systems.  Even when a system sounds the same (for example, “stage I, II, III, or IV”) the stages don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Lymphoma is a cancer that can be cured, even at stage IV.

“Stage III-IV lymphomas are common, still very treatable, and often curable, depending on the NHL subtype. Stage III and stage IV are now considered a single category because they have the same treatment and prognosis.” [2]

When someone has seen or experienced remission and even a cure of one of these “curable” cancers, it can be difficult to understand the devastation someone feels when they are told their cancer is “incurable.”

No two cancers are alike because of mutations

For a long time, lung cancer patients were relegated to “ugly step-stepsister” status; due to the impression most people have that lung cancer patients deserve to get cancer because cancer is a smoker’s disease, caused by bad behavior.

First, let me say that no one deserves cancer. Having seen this brutal disease up close, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, nor turn away and cluck my tongue if someone got it due to an “unhealthy lifestyle.”

The medical community is learning that more people get lung cancer who have never smoked (or haven’t in years) than they realized.

We were very fortunate to learn that Dan had an EGFR mutation. This is a mutation which set off a firestorm of research in the lung cancer world. With the possibilities that mutations present, they see hope for fighting this disease. So, more research dollars are being directed toward the least researched cancer and more treatment options are unfolding for lung cancer patients.

Thanks to this research, and new drugs, Dan has lived for 6 years with stage IV lung cancer. In 2012, he was given 6 months to live.

Asking for Prayer

No two cancers are alike because no two patients are alike

There are so many variations between patients. One particular treatment can work great for one patient and terrible in another. Some patients tolerate a treatment while others become ill to the point of death. Younger patients tend to do better than older patients on cancer treatment. Patients who have other underlying illnesses have a harder time than patients who start out healthier.

Support systems matter

No two cancers are alike because different patients have different levels of support. A strong support system can have a profound impact on both patients and caregivers.[3]  They are more likely to be compliant with treatment and understand their doctor’s recommendations. A good support system also helps combat depression that so commonly occurs in cancer patients.

In conclusion…

It’s natural to wonder why one person can live with cancer for a long time while another succumbs to their illness. Hopefully, this post has shed some light on the variables that impact the outcome of a patient’s disease. It’s important to be aware that a person’s experience with their cancer is as individual as they are.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

 

My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

[1] Sisson, Paul. “Why Did Carter and McCain Have Such Different Brain Tumor Results?” Sandiegouniontribune.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 Aug. 2018, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/health/sd-no-cancer-mccain-20180824-story.html.

[2] “Lymphoma – Non-Hodgkin – Stages.” Cancer.Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2 July 2018, www.cancer.net/cancer-types/lymphoma-non-hodgkin/stages.

[3] “Statistics Show the Importance of Psychosocial Support for Those Impacted by Cancer.” Imerman Angels, Imerman Angels, imermanangels.org/psychosocial/.

Originally posted 2018-09-10 07:00:38.


Radon

You can’t see it or smell it. It’s in the air, both outdoors and in, as well as in drinking water from rivers and streams. It can be deadly. It may sound like something from a science fiction story, but it’s real. It’s radon.

Why is Radon a Big Deal?

Each year, it contributes to as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths.[1] It’s a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking and is the number 1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Non-smokers account for 20% of annual lung cancer deaths in the US[2]

What is Radon?

Radon is an odorless, colorless, highly radioactive gas. The alpha radiation released by radon is the same as that of plutonium. It’s soluble and easily penetrates materials like paper, low-density plastic, and leather, as well as common building materials like concrete block, insulation, wood, sheetrock, etc.

Where is it found?

Radon is produced by nature. It comes from the breakdown of uranium. It’s usually found in igneous rock and soil (like granite).

Occasionally, it can be found in well water.[3] The problem is more with the inhalation of radon gas released from the water, rather than drinking the water itself.

The greatest danger lies in the air you breathe within your home. Cracks in foundations and slabs are the open door through which radon seeps into your home. HVAC systems draw the gas into your home due to changes in the air pressure, and energy efficiency keeps it there for your family to breath.

Check out this interactive radon level map

How do I know if my home is at risk?

Low-cost radon tests can be used to discover if your home has high levels. They can be purchased at most health agencies and home improvement stores, as well as online. There are 2 main types of test kits.

  • Short-term tests, take between 2 and 90 days.
  • Long-term tests take more than 90 days.

Begin with a short-term test. Follow the test manufacturer’s instructions and then after the testing time is complete, mail the test kit to the lab for results.

If your results are 4 pCi/L or higher and you have time, retest with a long-term test. This will show the radon levels over a longer period of time since levels can fluctuate. Even if you don’t have time for a longer test, it’s a good idea to perform a second short test.

How much is too much?

There is no “safe” level of radon, but there are guidelines for mitigation:

A reduction of radon levels to below 2 pCi/L nationwide would likely reduce the yearly lung cancer deaths attributed to radon by 50%. The World Health Organization recommends that countries adopt reference levels of the gas of 100 Bq/m3 which is equivalent to 2.7 pCi/L[4].

U.S. health organizations including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Surgeon General, the American Lung Association, and the American Medical Association, recommend testing your home and encourage public action when levels are above 4 pCi/L.

Exposure to 4 pCi/L is 35 times as great as you would receive standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site[5]. Some studies have shown that children are especially sensitive to radon exposure.

What if the levels in your home are high?

You can have a mitigation (reduction) system installed professionally. The cost ranges from $1,000-$3,000, depending on the type of system and the layout of your home. Sometimes, this cost can be covered by a healthcare savings account through your employer.

Typically, the process involves drilling a 5-inch hole in the basement slab and removing 10 gallons of dirt. Then, a PVC pipe is placed in the hole and sealed. From there, the pipe is run up through the roof of the home. The pipe contains an in-line fan that runs 24/7. This pulls the radon out of the home. From that point on, it should no longer be a problem in the home. You as well as any future home buyer can feel secure about the air in the home.

Our Story

When my husband, Dan was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were astounded. He’d never smoked or worked in an environment that contributed to lung cancer (such as with asbestos). Then we learned about the radon’s contribution to lung cancer in non-smokers. Now, as Realtors, we stand behind the EPA’s recommendations to homeowners, to test and mitigate if their home is one of the 8 million homes throughout the U.S. with excessive radon levels.

Taking a Digital Break

I will be taking a digital break during the month of January. I’ve noticed that I’m not getting as much writing done as I should be, so rather than spending time on email, social media, and other online activities, I will be writing and reconnecting with my goals for 2018. You will still see weekly blog posts on Facing Cancer with Grace, because I have already written them and will post them automatically, using a scheduler. Even though I may not respond to your comments right away, I will read them and appreciate them greatly. Since I won’t be sharing my posts to social media in January I would appreciate it if those of you who use social media would share my posts. Thank you!

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

Have you had a radon test done on your home? Have you had mitigation done? If not, what is keeping you from testing? I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

Now Available!!

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

[1] US Environmental Protection Agency: Basic Radon Fact Sheet EPA 402/F-12/005 | February 2013

[2] Why Non-Smokers Sometimes get Lung Cancer

[3] Radon Fact Sheet

[4] WHO Handbook on Indoor Radiation

[5] Radon Fact Sheet

 

Originally posted 2018-01-08 07:00:38.


Ring Theory Circle of Support

The Ring Theory-Finding Your Circle of Support

The Ring Theory was created by breast cancer survivor and clinical psychologist, Dr. Susan Silk Ph.D., and arbitrator/mediator, Barry Goldman. The gist of it is this: Comfort in. Dump out. Who you comfort, and who you “dump” your grief on (in other words, who comforts you) will determine what circle of support you reside in.

Take out a piece of paper. In the middle of the page, draw a small circle. Label it with the patient’s name. The patient is in the center circle of support because the patient is the center of their cancer universe. It is everyone else’s job to support them. No one is allowed to dump on the patient. What does that mean?

The Patient- The Center

When Karen, a breast cancer patient was no longer able to bring meals to neighborhood functions or help with the kids’ school activities, people remarked at how hard it was without her, since they depended on her. Often, people say things like this to let the patient know they are important. However, this added a new layer of guilt to Karen’s shoulders, even though that was never the speakers’ intentions. So, don’t say anything to the patient regarding the effects of his/her cancer on you. Instead, listen to and comfort the patient. It’s about them—not you.

Circle of Support for a Spouse/Caregiver

What about their spouse or caregiver? They’re next in line for support. Draw another circle around the “patient” circle.  That’s the “spouse/caregiver” ring.  Only the patient is allowed to dump The spouse or caregiver. Anyone else should listen to and comfort the spouse or caregiver. So, it’s about the caregiver/spouse too—not you.

Circle of Support for Other Immediate Family Members

Next, draw another circle around the first, which will represent the immediate family. Immediate family can vent to anyone other than the patient and the spouse/caregiver.

One thing to note is that immediate family can vent with one another. They all share the same concerns and are able to comfort one another in a unique and special way.

Circle of Support for Extended Family, Friends, and ColleaguesRing Theory of Cancer Support

Draw a fourth circle around the immediate family circle. This one represents extended family and close friends.

A fifth circle will represent colleagues and friends. Each subsequent circle of people is a little more distant from the patient and their situation.

You never want to dump on or vent to someone in a circle closer to the patient than the circle you’re in.  For example, a friend would not dump on a parent or a spouse. They could, however, talk to another friend, or someone outside of the situation.

Circle of Support for Lookie-Loos

Lookie-Loos reside on the outer edge of the rings. These are people who have nothing at stake. They are the grocer or the guy that visits your garage sale, someone from church who hasn’t spoken to the patient or caregiver in months, or someone who happened to come upon the patient or caregiver’s blog.

Lookie-Loos can keep their thoughts to themselves. They aren’t allowed to dump on anyone, but they can offer comfort. In fact, many times, a lookie-loo has been a great source of encouragement to our family.

It’s Etiquette that Works in any Crisis

Hopefully, this explains in a nutshell, the etiquette of who to comfort (anyone who is hurting), and who to dump on (only people in a circle larger than yours—and never the patient).

Dumping or venting is anything that isn’t solely and directly supportive. Remember the adage, “It’s not about me.” While it may affect you, dumping on anyone in a circle closer to the patient than you are, can be seen as insensitive, selfish, and tacky, even when said with the best of intentions.

By the way, this works for any crisis someone may go through, health, financial, marital, etc.

This information and more is found in my book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family, Photo by Everbranch Photography

Originally posted 2018-01-22 07:00:36.


Get a Mammogram

Today (May 14, 2018) is National Women’s Check-Up Day. Even if you aren’t getting a check-up today, you can make the call to schedule one. You can also decide whether or not to get a mammogram. Here are the basics:

When and how often should you get a mammogram?

Until recently, recommendations were for women to get screening mammograms beginning at age 40. Recently, the American Cancer Society has said that women can wait until age 45 to start getting annual mammograms and cut back to every other year once they turn 55. Still, they should have the option to get a mammogram beginning at age 40.

When you get a mammogram, is a personal decision that should be made based on your doctor’s recommendations and your personal medical history.  Be aware, that you don’t need to get one as early or as often as it was recommended in the past.

I recently had my first mammogram at age 42.

Why did I decide to have a screening mammogram before age 45?

Because:

  • My doctor recommended it and I trust her.
  • I’m very aware of false positives and won’t get stressed out if initial tests results are unclear.
  • I have seen what happens when cancer isn’t caught early.

Check out my post on a day in the life of a cancer patient, Living with Cancer

Planning to get a mammogram? Here are some tips:

  • It’s a good idea to have your mammogram at the same facility and at the same time of year so images can easily be compared from year to year.
  • If you’ve had a mammogram in the past and then, get a mammogram someplace new, either bring your records with you or have them sent to the new facility. That way the older pictures can be compared with the new ones.
  • Avoid scheduling your mammogram the week prior to your period to avoid swollen tender breasts. This will reduce discomfort and you will get better images.

You might be offered 2 types of mammograms

2D Mammograms are the usual mammogram. They are covered by most health insurances and will do a good job of screening.

3D Mammograms are clearer and more detailed. Most insurances DON’T cover 3D mammograms, so if you would like one, be prepared to pay out of pocket. Also, there is no evidence that the new 3D mammograms save more lives than the traditional 2D mammograms. Be aware, though, that they are available.

The day of your mammogram

  • Don’t wear any lotions, antiperspirants or perfumes. They can show up on the image.
  • Be sure to let the technician know if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, as well as any changes in your breasts.

What to expect

You will be given a gown and asked to undress from the waist up.

The technician will position one breast on the machine’s plastic plate. Then she will lower another plastic plate, compressing your breast. This will be done horizontally, and then diagonally, ensuring the image includes tissue that goes into your armpit. The diagonal compression does pinch a bit, but overall, the procedure doesn’t hurt and lasts only seconds.

That being said, don’t be surprised if your breasts feel tender the next day.

If you have breast implants or large breasts, they may take more than the usual two images per breast.

What if you are called back after your mammogram?

Most of the time, you will be notified by the radiologist or your doctor that your mammogram was normal. Sometimes, you will be notified within 5 days that they would like to take more images.  This is called a diagnostic mammogram. That may sound scary, but try not to worry.

Usually, this is nothing to be alarmed by. You may have a cyst or noncancerous tumor. The image may have been unclear or shown dense tissue that the radiologist wants a better look at.

During a diagnostic mammogram, more images will be taken than at a screening mammogram. You may also have an ultrasound done. or other imaging.

Get a mammogram

If it’s time for you to get a mammogram, don’t put it off.  It’s better to get it out of the way than to find out too late that something is wrong. You will sleep better knowing you are in good health.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-05-14 07:00:30.

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